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How China Became A Key Issue In The Georgia Runoff

Jon Ossoff. Photo by John Rampsott/Flickr.

Beijing is thousands of miles from Atlanta, but Republicans hope the Middle Kingdom weighs heavily on voters’ minds in the Georgia Senate runoff.

Rep. Eric Swalwell’s, D-Calif., newly revealed relationship with Chinese spy Christine Fang is helping the GOP press Jon Ossoff about his financial ties to China. Now, a top pollster believes “the attacks on Ossoff about his connections to China are working” for incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue.

The questions are fair. While Ossoff has no known connections to a spy like Fang, he received compensation from a Hong Kong media company with a pro-Beijing bent in the years between his failed House campaign and his run for Senate, then left the transaction off his financial disclosure.

Ossoff first chalked the lapse up to a “paperwork error” through a campaign spokesperson. He then amended the statement to disclose the payment, but also claimed the amount was under the $5,000 threshold that requires reporting.

In response to an inquiry from The Federalist about releasing the records, Ossoff’s campaign passed along a Dec. 18 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, pointing to one section in particular:

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reviewed quarterly payments Ossoff’s company received from Sky Vision, the global satellite communication service provider that licensed the two investigations in 2018.

It showed Sky Vision collected 1,047 English pounds from PCCW over the course of 2018 for licensing the films. After a 28% distribution fee, and converting to U.S. currency, it amounts to about $950 paid to Ossoff’s company. The records document the only transactions between the Democrat’s firm and PCCW, Ossoff’s campaign said.

It remains odd that Ossoff amended his financial disclosure form to reflect the payment, blaming a “paperwork error,” then claimed the payment didn’t meet the required threshold for disclosure anyway.

National Review reported Ossoff hadn’t spoken out in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters until his campaign issued a statement in response to questions about the financial disclosure, given that Richard Li, the man who runs the Hong Kong media company that compensated Ossoff, is a strident opponent of Hong Kong’s independence.

“Jon strongly supports Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and condemns the brutality and authoritarianism of the Chinese Communist Party,” a spokesperson told the outlet, declining to answer whether Ossoff specifically condemned Li’s opposition to Hong Kong’s independence.

The payment from PCCW, Li’s media company, was made in relation to screenings of a documentary produced by Ossoff’s company. The documentary focuses on war crimes committed by ISIS.

Earlier this month, Georgia-based conservative radio host Erick Erickson drew a direct parallel between Swalwell and Ossoff, arguing the reasons Beijing targeted the former also apply to the latter. “Eric Swalwell was compromised by a Chinese spy. Swalwell sat on the Intelligence Committee. Ossoff claims he had an intelligence clearance while working for members of Congress. Swalwell was very clearly charting a bigger path and Ossoff indisputably was.”

Erickson continued to point out that in Swalwell’s case the Chinese weren’t out for classified information so much as private details about his life that serve as political intelligence. Dana Perino made a similar point on Fox News, which ended up in a Perdue campaign ad.

If the payment was as small as Ossoff’s campaign says, it’s unlikely he’s significantly compromised by Beijing. If, however, he’s still hiding something, it’s a different story. As Tom Rogan, who covers intelligence extensively for the Washington Examiner, told The Federalist, “If Ossoff hides the payment, he shows vulnerability and thus makes the originally small investment exponentially more valuable as a tool of leverage from Beijing.”

When I asked the Ossoff campaign whether it was “planning to produce documentation that shows the precise amount of money Mr. Ossoff made in the transaction(s),” they pointed to the AJC article in which reporters say they reviewed the quarterly payments to Ossoff’s company.

“Radical Left Works To Install Another China-Bought Democrat” a Perdue press release blared last week. “From Eric Swalwell to Hunter Biden, it’s clear our foreign adversaries are working to penetrate our government by leveraging any relationship they can, and my China-bought opponent would provide them just another way to threaten our national security,” the senator said in a Dec. 17 statement.

One day later, Robert Cahaly, chief pollster at the Trafalgar Group, told Fox News he believes Perdue’s efforts to highlight these connections are boosting his odds of retaining the seat. “The movement, from what we can see, is more of the Ossoff-Perdue race. The voters are telling us that the movement is about the China thing. I think the attacks on Ossoff about his connections to China are working for Perdue,” Cahaly observed.

Ossoff’s campaign claims it’s Perdue who has a China problem, arguing the senator is whitewashing his own work overseas. “It’s embarrassing how wildly desperate David Perdue looks as he tries to lie himself out of this losing campaign, especially when he is the one with deep ties to China,” an Ossoff spokeswoman told the Journal-Constitution.

Indeed, the same AJC article cites a Huffington Post report that noted a new Perdue ad is very similar to a 2014 Perdue ad, but one major difference is that the new ad omits his two years of work for Sara Lee in Hong Kong, along with a picture of the senator and his wife on the Great Wall of China. In a post-pandemic GOP primary, Perdue’s business history might be a big liability.

That’s really the point. The reason Perdue’s ad shifted may be the same reason Ossoff initially left the PCCW transaction off his disclosure. Elites in media and business have extensive financial ties to China because it’s been a lucrative source of income. As the United States is increasingly skeptical of Beijing, and the country’s human rights abuses are increasingly scrutinized, those financial ties are liabilities in close races like the Georgia runoff.

In some cases, the shift from warmth towards China to skepticism may be sincere. Beijing has provided an abundance of reasons for people to distance themselves in recent years, so people like Perdue who worked in Asia may be well-positioned to explain the CCP’s deep issues. In some cases, the shift is probably as opportunistic as the initial business was. Either way, per Cahaly’s analysis, aspiring lawmakers with past ties to China should be aware voters will want answers.

Rightfully so. As the cases of Swalwell and Hunter Biden demonstrate, the Chinese Communist Party has been and continues to be engaged in serious efforts to compromise American elites, while American elites have been eager to make a buck in China.